On April 28th, Eagle Dynamics opened Early Access for DCS: Normandy 1944, their latest terrain expansion for DCS World that covers the Normandy region of France, a bit of the southern coast of England, and the English Channel in between. More than just adding some 90,000 square kilometers (about 35,000 square miles) of new terrain to explore, Eagle Dynamics has included significant updates to their map technologies including lighting, landscape textures, and creation of new objects. Additionally, in their WWII Assets package, Eagle Dynamics has developed AI air, land, and sea units that are specific to the WWII period to add to the World War II experience.
The Normandy 1944 map was offered as a reward to those who pledged $20 or more to the DCS WWII kickstarter. On April 28th, Early Access was granted to both the Normandy 1944 map and the WWII Assets Pack for those who had pledged $140 or more. Can’t remember how much you pledged? Check the DCS WWII backers page and be sure to login with the username you used when making your pledge.
Note: This preview was based on a work-in-progress product that may not reflect the final product.
Also note: For the purposes of this preview, Eagle Dynamics has provided preview keys to Mudspike for a sneak peek to share with you all. That said, the views and opinions expressed in this preview are the authors’ alone, as are any omissions or mistakes.
The 1944 terrain map loads just like any other map in DCS World and covers quite a bit of area. It’s clear from the Mission Editor that while the extent of the map is quite large, attention was focused on the Normandy region of France, famous for its chalky cliffs; soft, creamy, surface-ripened cheese; Nicolas Poussin; and its use as location of choice for action films taking place in that era.
This means that while the English terrain has land, forests and airfields, it’s not quite as detailed as the French area. There are collections of houses, clumps of trees, and roads on the English side of the channel, but no strong sense of cities or clear infrastructure. The terrain mesh is of good quality with gently rolling hills and detailed coastlines and islands offering plenty of interesting places to fly over, but the terrain texture is mostly fields with lines of trees and iconic landmarks like the White Cliffs of Dover aren’t present in their full glory.
Turns out that the English side of the channel was never planned as part of the Kickstarter, but was added to better support multiplayer as a free bonus. With the release of Normandy at the end of May, Eagle Dynamics is shifting resources to complete the Caucasus map update for DCS World 2.5, and will then return to the Strait of Hormuz map to support the Hornet. If there are any updates to be made to Normandy 1944, we likely won’t see them in the near future.
That said, the map is in pretty good shape. Fridge and I both took a few spins around le bloc; read more about our impressions below.
To support the 1944 ambiance that the Normandy 1944 map was intended to capture, Eagle Dynamics is developing a WWII Assets Pack, also planned to be released at the end of May, that contains air, land, and sea units representative of that era to enable crafty mission designers to create immersive environments, such as pitting a handful of Tiger tanks against a flood of Shermans and Cromwells while Willys jeeps and Kübelwagens scuttle about underneath skies darkening from the clouds of flak from 88s popping away at the B-17s flying overhead. Or maybe they’ll have a Samuel Adams assault transport ship provide covering fire while Higgins boats and LSTs rush to the beaches to deliver their loads of very brave and frightened soldiers to the intensifying front.
Some of my most memorable WWII combat flight experiences in other flight sims revolved around dodging flak in my Stuka or pinpointing the more dangerous tanks to take out in my Sturmovik, so I’m excited to see these period-specific units being brought to the DCS experience.
Tanks and Mobile Artillery
- M4A4 Sherman VC Firefly
- M4 Sherman with “Rhino” hedge cutter
- Mk VIII Cromwell
- Sd.Kfz. 162 Jagdpanzer IV
- Pz.Kpfw. VI Tiger I
- Pz.Kpfw VI Ausf. B Tiger II
- Pz.Kpfw. V Panther
- Pz.Kpfw. IV
- Sd.Kfz. 166 Sturmpanzer IV Brummbär
- Sd.Kfz. 173 Panzerjäger V Jagdpanther
Here’s just a few of the tanks, to demonstrate the quality of the units (and show off some of that neat grass!).
Cars and Trucks
- Jeep Willys
- Truck CCKW 353
- Bedford MWD
- Kübelwagen 82
- Truck Blitz 36-6700A
Steam Train and Cars
- DRG Class 86 locomotive
- Tank wagon
- G10 covered wagon
- DR 50 Ton Flat Wagon Type SSys
- Bofors 40 mm gun
- 8.8 cm Flak Gun 18, 36, & 37
- 2 cm Flak 30/38/Flakvierling
- LCVP Higgins
- LST Mk2
- USS Samuel Chase
- US soldier
- UK soldier
- German soldier
- B-17G bomber
*Anti-aircraft units were not available in the Early Access.
Spawning into the cockpit of the UH-1H Huey in southern England, near the Isle of Wight, the first thing I noticed was the lighting. You cannot miss seeing this change! I am not a graphics person, so understanding the nuance in the lighting is difficult for me. It’s not that DCS 1.5 is drab, dreary, or dull but the lighting in DCS 2.1 feels better, more like what I would expect the world outside of my flight sim cavern to be.
Everything seems to react to the lighting conditions, some in obvious ways and others in subtle ways. The look of the aircraft is amazing! The light reflecting off of a spinning prop or rotor is impressive. Later, when flying the F-86F over northern France in formation with a B-17G, I was in awe of the textures and how they interact with the lighting.
The trees are not to be trifled with. They will remove your skids if you get too close. And the Strela that I placed in a tree-lined field held its fire until I was above the treeline and in its visual no-escape zone. Return fire from my door gunners was the same – the AI cannot seem to see through the foliage, let alone fire through it. This is going to give helicopter pilots a new lease of life while at the same time making their lives more … interesting.
This impression was coupled with the water and its interactions to ground-effect rotor wash, the depth under the surface and the weather.
Trees look so much …better. Like Fridge’s first impression above, it’s not that I didn’t like the previous implementation, I just didn’t know what I was missing. The trees feel solid, have a unique three-dimensional shape instead of that symmetrical pop-up book look.
And as Fridge mentioned above, those trees are grabby. I set up a few scenarios with SA-3s and Iglas in the forests and while the units didn’t spontaneously explode, they refused to launch missiles when I flew my UH-1H within their WEZ. The Igla tracked me for a bit, but never launched. Thanks, trees! I wasn’t able to see if a tree would grab a launched missile (they kept self-destructing before reaching the treeline), but given how often they took parts off my aircraft, I’m betting those hungry trees would snap up a missile, too.
Just like the other DCS terrains, Normandy 1944 models different seasons as well, although that feature wasn’t working yet in the Early Access version. With the major change to how trees are generated and rendered, I’m very curious to see what they’ll look like in winter and fall.
In addition to the trees, grass was added, further increasing the immersion of down-low flight. And when I say grass, I don’t mean patches of grass, I mean actual individual blades of grass, rippling in waves as unseen wind shifts them around. The effect is mesmerizing.
Outside of the terrain engine updates, the map itself is gorgeous. As mentioned in the intro, the French side of the map is highly detailed with buildings, streets, and statics objects going a long ways towards convincing the player they’re flying over 1944’s Normandy.
As mentioned above, the UK side of the channel isn’t detailed to the same degree as the French side, but it’s still very pretty and is a great backdrop for classic WWII dogfighting.
The Path Forward
The new terrain and engine features that were demonstrated in this Normandy 1944 release will eventually be ported to the non-alpha versions of DCS, but expect to see them in the DCS Open Alpha first, then the Open Beta, then in the Release version. As with most things from Eagle Dynamics, don’t expect to see a release date published until it’s right around the corner – ED knows how to keep us in suspense!
Similarly, there’s no new word on any of the upcoming DCS: World War II modules or terrains, but we’re still looking forward to news on the P-47, the Me-262, and a number of other WWII projects that are still in works.
Eagle Dynamics is making some great progress with their terrain technology which really improves the flying experience and really garners confidence in their ability to bring ground-breaking capabilities to the home PC. These technologies will eventually make it into the DCS World release, so buying this DLC just to get these features now doesn’t really make sense – unless you really want them now.
What your purchase of this terrain really gives you is a whole new world to explore and create amazing adventures in and around: cities, rivers, industry complexes, rolling hills, islands, open water, etc. While the French side of the map is more detailed than the UK, clever use of the DCS Mission Editor can bring a great many experiences to life and Normandy 1944 is a whole new canvas waiting for an imaginative mission designer’s brush. Hopefully, Eagle Dynamics is able to revisit Normandy 1944, and fill out some of the Northern Coast as well as spread out the French area, similar to the growing detail we find in the NTTR terrain.
Similarly, the WWII Assets pack is a must if you’re looking to re-create the WWII experience in any of the terrains. It’s also a must if you ever want to play a mission or campaign that incorporates these units, multiplayer or single-player.
The real question is whether the price is worth it. At the time of writing this article, the DCS: Normandy 1944 Map can be acquired at the DCS E-Shop for the pre-purchase price of $44.99 USD. For comparison, the Nevada Test and Training Range Map is still for sale at $49.99. The DCS: WWII Assets Pack can be purchased for $29.99, a standalone price that seems a little hefty for adding some objects and units, but it is definitely required if you’re looking for that authentic WWII experience. The two can be pre-purchased together as a combo for $47.99, which is a pretty reasonable deal, considering all you get.
Fridge and I both recommend the combo. With just the Normandy 1944 map you’ll miss out on any future missions or campaigns (DLC or free) that make good use of the WWII Assets. With just the Asset Pack you’re really missing out on all the options a whole new terrain gives you, and for just a little more money, so why not pick up both at a relatively reasonable price?
Whatever you pick, be sure to have some epic adventures, and share them with us in our forums!
Thanks to Eagle Dynamics for the generous donation of the keys for this review, and to Fridge for sharing his impressions for this early access preview.